He’s behind you: The offending Newsnight backdrop.

This Site reported yesterday, in a continuation of the ‘HatGate’ controversy, the following extraordinary revelation from Jolyon Maugham QC:

He was making the comment in support of claims that the BBC’s Newsnight team had Photoshopped an image of Jeremy Corbyn and put it against a Russia-esque background to make him look like a Communist to casual viewers (see the image above).

This Writer isn’t particularly keen on Mr Maugham. He called me an anti-Semite on Twitter a few weeks ago and failed to provide any supporting evidence (because there isn’t any) so it would be fair to say I have doubts about him.

But he deserves a fair hearing – especially since he has both publicised criticism of his claim and published clarification of what he’s saying.

On his website, Mr Maugham wrote:

My “conversation” – which was conducted entirely in writing – took place with X. X is an individual at the BBC whose seniority and sphere of work is such that it could not sensibly be suggested that X is not properly qualified to speak on such matters.

The conversation took place subsequent to Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader and in the context of a broader conversation about his treatment by the press.

It was not explicitly in private. But I understood it to be part of a private conversation. At the time I asked X whether I could make public an anonymised version. X indicated a preference for me not doing so as to do so might cause a witch hunt.

I think it is important I respect X’s wish that nothing be said that could conceivably enable X to be identified – including the particular language used by X. But I also think it is important to put this in the public domain – in particular in light of the BBC’s response to claims that it is coding into its imagery anti-Corbyn messaging. The tweet represents my attempt to balance those two matters. [Transparency note (i) I am a vigorous critic of Corbyn, especially on the subject of his stance on the EU (ii) I have said I agree with criticisms of the BBC’s use of images of Corbyn in front of St Basil’s cathedral].

X talked explicitly and unambiguously about how criticisms of Corbyn that the BBC could not voice were deliberately coded into imagery. X did not say that this was a general policy of the BBC or that there was some institutional directive to ‘smear’ Jeremy Corbyn. X clearly understood that X’s comments were sensitive for the BBC. [Note: my understanding of the BBC’s news/current affairs/politics output is that it is relatively heterodox.]

I have said that I would swear a statement that my tweet above is true. I am also prepared to consider asking a lawyer, who would be bound by a professional duty of confidentiality, to swear a witness statement saying that s/he has reviewed the written exchange between me and X and that my tweet and this blog post is accurate.

The criticism runs as follows:

“You simply repeat that your Beeb source is a high-up and repeat at greater length in substance what you said in your tweet. The only new wrinkle is what you say your source DIDN’T say: namely they didn’t say this was a general or institutionalised policy by the BBC. But this ambiguous remark (did they say “it isn’t a policy” or did they just not say “it is a policy”?) raises yet more questions. For instance, if it’s not a general policy, where is it coming from? And if you aren’t sure whether it’s policy or some individual initiative, should you have claimed in your first tweet the “BBC does code negative messages about Corbyn into its imagery” as this clearly implies a policy. Lastly, you have to wonder why if your source is so high up he hasn’t done anything about it other than gossip to you.”

Personally, I thought it was clear: There is no written policy at the BBC that says “We will code anti-Corbyn messaging into our imagery” – it’s an unwritten practice.

What do you expect when the BBC is stuffed full of Tories?

Anyway, this seems a good opportunity for a poll, so let’s have one – and we’ll widen it to include spoken statements that are anti-Corbyn as well:


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